The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
Chapters 1-10

Hardy Chapters 1-10
Chapters 11-20
Chapters 21-30
Chapters 31-40
Chapters 41-45

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[1]         1.
[4]         One evening of late summer, before the nineteenth century
[5]         had reached one-third of its span, a young man and woman,
[6]         the latter carrying a child, were approaching the large
[7]         village of Weydon-Priors, in Upper Wessex, on foot. They
[8]         were plainly but not ill clad, though the thick hoar of dust
[9]         which had accumulated on their shoes and garments from an
[10]        obviously long journey lent a disadvantageous shabbiness to
[11]        their appearance just now.
[13]        The man was of fine figure, swarthy, and stern in aspect;
[14]        and he showed in profile a facial angle so slightly inclined
[15]        as to be almost perpendicular. He wore a short jacket of
[16]        brown corduroy, newer than the remainder of his suit, which
[17]        was a fustian waistcoat with white horn buttons, breeches of
[18]        the same, tanned leggings, and a straw hat overlaid with
[19]        black glazed canvas. At his back he carried by a looped
[20]        strap a rush basket, from which protruded at one end the
[21]        crutch of a hay-knife, a wimble for hay-bonds being also
[22]        visible in the aperture. His measured, springless walk was
[23]        the walk of the skilled countryman as distinct from the
[24]        desultory shamble of the general labourer; while in the turn
[25]        and plant of each foot there was, further, a dogged and
[26]        cynical indifference personal to himself, showing its
[27]        presence even in the regularly interchanging fustian folds,
[28]        now in the left leg, now in the right, as he paced along.
[30]        What was really peculiar, however, in this couple's
[31]        progress, and would have attracted the attention of any
[32]        casual observer otherwise disposed to overlook them, was the
[33]        perfect silence they preserved. They walked side by side in
[34]        such a way as to suggest afar off the low, easy,
[35]        confidential chat of people full of reciprocity; but on
[36]        closer view it could be discerned that the man was reading,
[37]        or pretending to read, a ballad sheet which he kept before
[38]        his eyes with some difficulty by the hand that was passed
[39]        through the basket strap. Whether this apparent cause were
[40]        the real cause, or whether it were an assumed one to escape
[41]        an intercourse that would have been irksome to him, nobody
[42]        but himself could have said precisely; but his taciturnity
[43]        was unbroken, and the woman enjoyed no society whatever from
[44]        his presence. Virtually she walked the highway alone, save
[45]        for the child she bore. Sometimes the man's bent elbow
[46]        almost touched her shoulder, for she kept as close to his
[47]        side as was possible without actual contact, but she seemed
[48]        to have no idea of taking his arm, nor he of offering it;
[49]        and far from exhibiting surprise at his ignoring silence she
[50]        appeared to receive it as a natural thing. If any word at
[51]        all were uttered by the little group, it was an occasional
[52]        whisper of the woman to the child--a tiny girl in short
[53]        clothes and blue boots of knitted yarn--and the murmured
[54]        babble of the child in reply.
[56]        The chief--almost the only--attraction of the young woman's
[57]        face was its mobility. When she looked down sideways to the
[58]        girl she became pretty, and even handsome, particularly that
[59]        in the action her features caught slantwise the rays of the
[60]        strongly coloured sun, which made transparencies of her
[61]        eyelids and nostrils and set fire on her lips. When she
[62]        plodded on in the shade of the hedge, silently thinking, she
[63]        had the hard, half-apathetic expression of one who deems
[64]        anything possible at the hands of Time and Chance except,
[65]        perhaps, fair play. The first phase was the work of Nature,
[66]        the second probably of civilization.
[68]        That the man and woman were husband and wife, and the
[69]        parents of the girl in arms there could be little doubt. No
[70]        other than such relationship would have accounted for the
[71]        atmosphere of stale familiarity which the trio carried along
[72]        with them like a nimbus as they moved down the road.
[74]        The wife mostly kept her eyes fixed ahead, though with
[75]        little interest--the scene for that matter being one that
[76]        might have been matched at almost any spot in any county in
[77]        England at this time of the year; a road neither straight
[78]        nor crooked, neither level nor hilly, bordered by hedges,
[79]        trees, and other vegetation, which had entered the
[80]        blackened-green stage of colour that the doomed leaves pass
[81]        through on their way to dingy, and yellow, and red. The
[82]        grassy margin of the bank, and the nearest hedgerow boughs,
[83]        were powdered by the dust that had been stirred over them by
[84]        hasty vehicles, the same dust as it lay on the road
[85]        deadening their footfalls like a carpet; and this, with the
[86]        aforesaid total absence of conversation, allowed every
[87]        extraneous sound to be heard.
[89]        For a long time there was none, beyond the voice of a weak
[90]        bird singing a trite old evening song that might doubtless
[91]        have been heard on the hill at the same hour, and with the
[92]        self-same trills, quavers, and breves, at any sunset of that
[93]        season for centuries untold. But as they approached the
[94]        village sundry distant shouts and rattles reached their ears
[95]        from some elevated spot in that direction, as yet screened
[96]        from view by foliage. When the outlying houses of Weydon-
[97]        Priors could just be described, the family group was met by
[98]        a turnip-hoer with his hoe on his shoulder, and his dinner-
[99]        bag suspended from it. The reader promptly glanced up.
[101]       "Any trade doing here?" he asked phlegmatically, designating
[102]       the village in his van by a wave of the broadsheet. And
[103]       thinking the labourer did not understand him, he added,
[104]       "Anything in the hay-trussing line?"
[106]       The turnip-hoer had already begun shaking his head. "Why,
[107]       save the man, what wisdom's in him that 'a should come to
[108]       Weydon for a job of that sort this time o' year?"
[110]       "Then is there any house to let--a little small new cottage
[111]       just a builded, or such like?" asked the other.
[113]       The pessimist still maintained a negative. "Pulling down is
[114]       more the nater of Weydon. There were five houses cleared
[115]       away last year, and three this; and the volk nowhere to go--
[116]       no, not so much as a thatched hurdle; that's the way o'
[117]       Weydon-Priors."
[119]       The hay-trusser, which he obviously was, nodded with some
[120]       superciliousness. Looking towards the village, he
[121]       continued, "There is something going on here, however, is
[122]       there not?"
[124]       "Ay. 'Tis Fair Day. Though what you hear now is little
[125]       more than the clatter and scurry of getting away the money
[126]       o' children and fools, for the real business is done earlier
[127]       than this. I've been working within sound o't all day, but
[128]       I didn't go up--not I. 'Twas no business of mine."
[130]       The trusser and his family proceeded on their way, and soon
[131]       entered the Fair-field, which showed standing-places and
[132]       pens where many hundreds of horses and sheep had been
[133]       exhibited and sold in the forenoon, but were now in great
[134]       part taken away. At present, as their informant had
[135]       observed, but little real business remained on hand, the
[136]       chief being the sale by auction of a few inferior animals,
[137]       that could not otherwise be disposed of, and had been
[138]       absolutely refused by the better class of traders, who came
[139]       and went early. Yet the crowd was denser now than during
[140]       the morning hours, the frivolous contingent of visitors,
[141]       including journeymen out for a holiday, a stray soldier or
[142]       two come on furlough, village shopkeepers, and the like,
[143]       having latterly flocked in; persons whose activities found a
[144]       congenial field among the peep-shows, toy-stands, waxworks,
[145]       inspired monsters, disinterested medical men who travelled
[146]       for the public good, thimble-riggers, nick-nack vendors, and
[147]       readers of Fate.
[149]       Neither of our pedestrians had much heart for these things,
[150]       and they looked around for a refreshment tent among the many
[151]       which dotted the down. Two, which stood nearest to them in
[152]       the ochreous haze of expiring sunlight, seemed almost
[153]       equally inviting. One was formed of new, milk-hued canvas,
[154]       and bore red flags on its summit; it announced "Good Home-
[155]       brewed Beer, Ale, and Cyder." The other was less new; a
[156]       little iron stove-pipe came out of it at the back and in
[157]       front appeared the placard, "Good Furmity Sold Hear." The
[158]       man mentally weighed the two inscriptions and inclined to
[159]       the former tent.
[161]       "No--no--the other one," said the woman. "I always like
[162]       furmity; and so does Elizabeth-Jane; and so will you. It is
[163]       nourishing after a long hard day."
[165]       "I've never tasted it," said the man. However, he gave way
[166]       to her representations, and they entered the furmity booth
[167]       forthwith.
[169]       A rather numerous company appeared within, seated at the
[170]       long narrow tables that ran down the tent on each side. At
[171]       the upper end stood a stove, containing a charcoal fire,
[172]       over which hung a large three-legged crock, sufficiently
[173]       polished round the rim to show that it was made of bell-
[174]       metal. A haggish creature of about fifty presided, in a
[175]       white apron, which as it threw an air of respectability over
[176]       her as far as it extended, was made so wide as to reach
[177]       nearly round her waist. She slowly stirred the contents of
[178]       the pot. The dull scrape of her large spoon was audible
[179]       throughout the tent as she thus kept from burning the
[180]       mixture of corn in the grain, flour, milk, raisins,
[181]       currants, and what not, that composed the antiquated slop in
[182]       which she dealt. Vessels holding the separate ingredients
[183]       stood on a white-clothed table of boards and trestles close by.
[185]       The young man and woman ordered a basin each of the mixture,
[186]       steaming hot, and sat down to consume it at leisure. This
[187]       was very well so far, for furmity, as the woman had said, was
[188]       nourishing, and as proper a food as could be obtained within
[189]       the four seas; though, to those not accustomed to it, the grains
[190]       of wheat swollen as large as lemon-pips, which floated on its
[191]       surface, might have a deterrent effect at first.
[193]       But there was more in that tent than met the cursory glance;
[194]       and the man, with the instinct of a perverse character,
[195]       scented it quickly. After a mincing attack on his bowl, he
[196]       watched the hag's proceedings from the corner of his eye,
[197]       and saw the game she played. He winked to her, and passed
[198]       up his basin in reply to her nod; when she took a bottle
[199]       from under the table, slily measured out a quantity of its
[200]       contents, and tipped the same into the man's furmity. The
[201]       liquor poured in was rum. The man as slily sent back money
[202]       in payment.
[204]       He found the concoction, thus strongly laced, much more to
[205]       his satisfaction than it had been in its natural state. His
[206]       wife had observed the proceeding with much uneasiness; but
[207]       he persuaded her to have hers laced also, and she agreed to
[208]       a milder allowance after some misgiving.
[210]       The man finished his basin, and called for another, the rum
[211]       being signalled for in yet stronger proportion. The effect
[212]       of it was soon apparent in his manner, and his wife but too
[213]       sadly perceived that in strenuously steering off the rocks
[214]       of the licensed liquor-tent she had only got into maelstrom
[215]       depths here amongst the smugglers.
[217]       The child began to prattle impatiently, and the wife more
[218]       than once said to her husband, "Michael, how about our
[219]       lodging? You know we may have trouble in getting it if we
[220]       don't go soon."
[222]       But he turned a deaf ear to those bird-like chirpings. He
[223]       talked loud to the company. The child's black eyes, after
[224]       slow, round, ruminating gazes at the candles when they were
[225]       lighted, fell together; then they opened, then shut again,
[226]       and she slept.
[228]       At the end of the first basin the man had risen to serenity;
[229]       at the second he was jovial; at the third, argumentative, at
[230]       the fourth, the qualities signified by the shape of his
[231]       face, the occasional clench of his mouth, and the fiery
[232]       spark of his dark eye, began to tell in his conduct; he was
[233]       overbearing--even brilliantly quarrelsome.
[235]       The conversation took a high turn, as it often does on such
[236]       occasions. The ruin of good men by bad wives, and, more
[237]       particularly, the frustration of many a promising youth's
[238]       high aims and hopes and the extinction of his energies by an
[239]       early imprudent marriage, was the theme.
[241]       "I did for myself that way thoroughly," said the trusser
[242]       with a contemplative bitterness that was well-night
[243]       resentful. "I married at eighteen, like the fool that I
[244]       was; and this is the consequence o't." He pointed at himself
[245]       and family with a wave of the hand intended to bring out the
[246]       penuriousness of the exhibition.
[248]       The young woman his wife, who seemed accustomed to such
[249]       remarks, acted as if she did not hear them, and continued
[250]       her intermittent private words of tender trifles to the
[251]       sleeping and waking child, who was just big enough to be
[252]       placed for a moment on the bench beside her when she wished
[253]       to ease her arms. The man continued--
[255]       "I haven't more than fifteen shillings in the world, and yet
[256]       I am a good experienced hand in my line. I'd challenge
[257]       England to beat me in the fodder business; and if I were a
[258]       free man again I'd be worth a thousand pound before I'd done
[259]       o't. But a fellow never knows these little things till all
[260]       chance of acting upon 'em is past."
[262]       The auctioneer selling the old horses in the field outside
[263]       could be heard saying, "Now this is the last lot--now who'll
[264]       take the last lot for a song? Shall I say forty shillings?
[265]       'Tis a very promising broodmare, a trifle over five years
[266]       old, and nothing the matter with the hoss at all, except
[267]       that she's a little holler in the back and had her left eye
[268]       knocked out by the kick of another, her own sister, coming
[269]       along the road."
[271]       "For my part I don't see why men who have got wives and
[272]       don't want 'em, shouldn't get rid of 'em as these gipsy
[273]       fellows do their old horses," said the man in the tent.
[274]       "Why shouldn't they put 'em up and sell 'em by auction to
[275]       men who are in need of such articles? Hey? Why, begad, I'd
[276]       sell mine this minute if anybody would buy her!"
[278]       "There's them that would do that," some of the guests
[279]       replied, looking at the woman, who was by no means ill-favoured.
[281]       "True," said a smoking gentleman, whose coat had the fine
[282]       polish about the collar, elbows, seams, and shoulder-blades
[283]       that long-continued friction with grimy surfaces will
[284]       produce, and which is usually more desired on furniture than
[285]       on clothes. From his appearance he had possibly been in
[286]       former time groom or coachman to some neighbouring county
[287]       family. "I've had my breedings in as good circles, I may
[288]       say, as any man," he added, "and I know true cultivation, or
[289]       nobody do; and I can declare she's got it--in the bone, mind
[290]       ye, I say--as much as any female in the fair--though it may
[291]       want a little bringing out." Then, crossing his legs, he
[292]       resumed his pipe with a nicely-adjusted gaze at a point in
[293]       the air.
[295]       The fuddled young husband stared for a few seconds at this
[296]       unexpected praise of his wife, half in doubt of the wisdom of
[297]       his own attitude towards the possessor of such qualities. But
[298]       he speedily lapsed into his former conviction, and said harshly--
[300]       "Well, then, now is your chance; I am open to an offer for
[301]       this gem o' creation."
[303]       She turned to her husband and murmured, "Michael, you have
[304]       talked this nonsense in public places before. A joke is a
[305]       joke, but you may make it once too often, mind!"
[307]       "I know I've said it before; I meant it. All I want is a
[308]       buyer."
[310]       At the moment a swallow, one among the last of the season,
[311]       which had by chance found its way through an opening into
[312]       the upper part of the tent, flew to and from quick curves
[313]       above their heads, causing all eyes to follow it absently.
[314]       In watching the bird till it made its escape the assembled
[315]       company neglected to respond to the workman's offer, and the
[316]       subject dropped.
[318]       But a quarter of an hour later the man, who had gone on
[319]       lacing his furmity more and more heavily, though he was
[320]       either so strong-minded or such an intrepid toper that he
[321]       still appeared fairly sober, recurred to the old strain, as
[322]       in a musical fantasy the instrument fetches up the original
[323]       theme. "Here--I am waiting to know about this offer of
[324]       mine. The woman is no good to me. Who'll have her?"
[326]       The company had by this time decidedly degenerated, and the
[327]       renewed inquiry was received with a laugh of appreciation.
[328]       The woman whispered; she was imploring and anxious: "Come,
[329]       come, it is getting dark, and this nonsense won't do. If
[330]       you don't come along, I shall go without you. Come!"
[332]       She waited and waited; yet he did not move. In ten minutes
[333]       the man broke in upon the desultory conversation of the
[334]       furmity drinkers with. "I asked this question, and nobody
[335]       answered to 't. Will any Jack Rag or Tom Straw among ye buy
[336]       my goods?"
[338]       The woman's manner changed, and her face assumed the grim
[339]       shape and colour of which mention has been made.
[341]       "Mike, Mike," she said; "this is getting serious. O!--too
[342]       serious!"
[344]       "Will anybody buy her?" said the man.
[346]       "I wish somebody would," said she firmly. "Her present
[347]       owner is not at all to her liking!"
[349]       "Nor you to mine," said he. "So we are agreed about that.
[350]       Gentlemen, you hear? It's an agreement to part. She shall
[351]       take the girl if she wants to, and go her ways. I'll take
[352]       my tools, and go my ways. 'Tis simple as Scripture history.
[353]       Now then, stand up, Susan, and show yourself."
[355]       "Don't, my chiel," whispered a buxom staylace dealer in
[356]       voluminous petticoats, who sat near the woman; "yer good man
[357]       don't know what he's saying."
[359]       The woman, however, did stand up. "Now, who's auctioneer?"
[360]       cried the hay-trusser.
[362]       "I be," promptly answered a short man, with a nose
[363]       resembling a copper knob, a damp voice, and eyes like
[364]       button-holes. "Who'll make an offer for this lady?"
[366]       The woman looked on the ground, as if she maintained her
[367]       position by a supreme effort of will.
[369]       "Five shillings," said someone, at which there was a laugh.
[371]       "No insults," said the husband. "Who'll say a guinea?"
[373]       Nobody answered; and the female dealer in staylaces
[374]       interposed.
[376]       "Behave yerself moral, good man, for Heaven's love! Ah, what
[377]       a cruelty is the poor soul married to! Bed and board is dear
[378]       at some figures 'pon my 'vation 'tis!"
[380]       "Set it higher, auctioneer," said the trusser.
[382]       "Two guineas!" said the auctioneer; and no one replied.
[384]       "If they don't take her for that, in ten seconds they'll
[385]       have to give more," said the husband. "Very well. Now
[386]       auctioneer, add another."
[388]       "Three guineas--going for three guineas!" said the rheumy
[389]       man.
[391]       "No bid?" said the husband. "Good Lord, why she's cost me
[392]       fifty times the money, if a penny. Go on."
[394]       "Four guineas!" cried the auctioneer.
[396]       "I'll tell ye what--I won't sell her for less than five,"
[397]       said the husband, bringing down his fist so that the basins
[398]       danced. "I'll sell her for five guineas to any man that
[399]       will pay me the money, and treat her well; and he shall have
[400]       her for ever, and never hear aught o' me. But she shan't go
[401]       for less. Now then--five guineas--and she's yours. Susan,
[402]       you agree?"
[404]       She bowed her head with absolute indifference.
[406]       "Five guineas," said the auctioneer, "or she'll be
[407]       withdrawn. Do anybody give it? The last time. Yes or no?"
[409]       "Yes," said a loud voice from the doorway.
[411]       All eyes were turned. Standing in the triangular opening
[412]       which formed the door of the tent was a sailor, who,
[413]       unobserved by the rest, had arrived there within the last
[414]       two or three minutes. A dead silence followed his
[415]       affirmation.
[417]       "You say you do?" asked the husband, staring at him.
[419]       "I say so," replied the sailor.
[421]       "Saying is one thing, and paying is another. Where's the
[422]       money?"
[424]       The sailor hesitated a moment, looked anew at the woman,
[425]       came in, unfolded five crisp pieces of paper, and threw them
[426]       down upon the tablecloth. They were Bank-of-England notes
[427]       for five pounds. Upon the face of this he clinked down the
[428]       shillings severally--one, two, three, four, five.
[430]       The sight of real money in full amount, in answer to a
[431]       challenge for the same till then deemed slightly
[432]       hypothetical had a great effect upon the spectators. Their
[433]       eyes became riveted upon the faces of the chief actors, and
[434]       then upon the notes as they lay, weighted by the shillings,
[435]       on the table.
[437]       Up to this moment it could not positively have been asserted
[438]       that the man, in spite of his tantalizing declaration, was
[439]       really in earnest. The spectators had indeed taken the
[440]       proceedings throughout as a piece of mirthful irony carried
[441]       to extremes; and had assumed that, being out of work, he
[442]       was, as a consequence, out of temper with the world, and
[443]       society, and his nearest kin. But with the demand and
[444]       response of real cash the jovial frivolity of the scene
[445]       departed. A lurid colour seemed to fill the tent, and
[446]       change the aspect of all therein. The mirth-wrinkles left
[447]       the listeners' faces, and they waited with parting lips.
[449]       "Now," said the woman, breaking the silence, so that her low
[450]       dry voice sounded quite loud, "before you go further,
[451]       Michael, listen to me. If you touch that money, I and this
[452]       girl go with the man. Mind, it is a joke no longer."
[454]       "A joke? Of course it is not a joke!" shouted her husband,
[455]       his resentment rising at her suggestion. "I take the money;
[456]       the sailor takes you. That's plain enough. It has been
[457]       done elsewhere--and why not here?"
[459]       "'Tis quite on the understanding that the young woman is
[460]       willing," said the sailor blandly. "I wouldn't hurt her
[461]       feelings for the world."
[463]       "Faith, nor I," said her husband. "But she is willing,
[464]       provided she can have the child. She said so only the other
[465]       day when I talked o't!"
[467]       "That you swear?" said the sailor to her.
[469]       "I do," said she, after glancing at her husband's face and
[470]       seeing no repentance there.
[472]       "Very well, she shall have the child, and the bargain's
[473]       complete," said the trusser. He took the sailor's notes and
[474]       deliberately folded them, and put them with the shillings in
[475]       a high remote pocket, with an air of finality.
[477]       The sailor looked at the woman and smiled. "Come along!" he
[478]       said kindly. "The little one too--the more the merrier!"
[479]       She paused for an instant, with a close glance at him. Then
[480]       dropping her eyes again, and saying nothing, she took up the
[481]       child and followed him as he made towards the door. On
[482]       reaching it, she turned, and pulling off her wedding-ring,
[483]       flung it across the booth in the hay-trusser's face.
[485]       "Mike," she said, "I've lived with thee a couple of years,
[486]       and had nothing but temper! Now I'm no more to 'ee; I'll try
[487]       my luck elsewhere. 'Twill be better for me and Elizabeth-
[488]       Jane, both. So good-bye!"
[490]       Seizing the sailor's arm with her right hand, and mounting
[491]       the little girl on her left, she went out of the tent
[492]       sobbing bitterly.
[494]       A stolid look of concern filled the husband's face, as if,
[495]       after all, he had not quite anticipated this ending; and
[496]       some of the guests laughed.
[498]       "Is she gone?" he said.
[500]       "Faith, ay! she's gone clane enough," said some rustics near
[501]       the door.
[503]       He rose and walked to the entrance with the careful tread of
[504]       one conscious of his alcoholic load. Some others followed,
[505]       and they stood looking into the twilight. The difference
[506]       between the peacefulness of inferior nature and the wilful
[507]       hostilities of mankind was very apparent at this place. In
[508]       contrast with the harshness of the act just ended within the
[509]       tent was the sight of several horses crossing their necks
[510]       and rubbing each other lovingly as they waited in patience
[511]       to be harnessed for the homeward journey. Outside the fair,
[512]       in the valleys and woods, all was quiet. The sun had
[513]       recently set, and the west heaven was hung with rosy cloud,
[514]       which seemed permanent, yet slowly changed. To watch it was
[515]       like looking at some grand feat of stagery from a darkened
[516]       auditorium. In presence of this scene after the other there
[517]       was a natural instinct to abjure man as the blot on an
[518]       otherwise kindly universe; till it was remembered that all
[519]       terrestrial conditions were intermittent, and that mankind
[520]       might some night be innocently sleeping when these quiet
[521]       objects were raging loud.
[523]       "Where do the sailor live?" asked a spectator, when they had
[524]       vainly gazed around.
[526]       "God knows that," replied the man who had seen high life.
[527]       "He's without doubt a stranger here."
[529]       "He came in about five minutes ago," said the furmity woman,
[530]       joining the rest with her hands on her hips. "And then 'a
[531]       stepped back, and then 'a looked in again. I'm not a penny
[532]       the better for him."
[534]       "Serves the husband well be-right," said the staylace
[535]       vendor. "A comely respectable body like her--what can a man
[536]       want more? I glory in the woman's sperrit. I'd ha' done it
[537]       myself--od send if I wouldn't, if a husband had behaved so
[538]       to me! I'd go, and 'a might call, and call, till his keacorn
[539]       was raw; but I'd never come back--no, not till the great
[540]       trumpet, would I!"
[542]       "Well, the woman will be better off," said another of a more
[543]       deliberative turn. "For seafaring natures be very good
[544]       shelter for shorn lambs, and the man do seem to have plenty
[545]       of money, which is what she's not been used to lately, by
[546]       all showings."
[548]       "Mark me--I'll not go after her!" said the trusser,
[549]       returning doggedly to his seat. "Let her go! If she's up to
[550]       such vagaries she must suffer for 'em. She'd no business to
[551]       take the maid--'tis my maid; and if it were the doing again
[552]       she shouldn't have her!"
[554]       Perhaps from some little sense of having countenanced an
[555]       indefensible proceeding, perhaps because it was late, the
[556]       customers thinned away from the tent shortly after this
[557]       episode. The man stretched his elbows forward on the table
[558]       leant his face upon his arms, and soon began to snore. The
[559]       furmity seller decided to close for the night, and after
[560]       seeing the rum-bottles, milk, corn, raisins, etc., that
[561]       remained on hand, loaded into the cart, came to where the
[562]       man reclined. She shook him, but could not wake him. As
[563]       the tent was not to be struck that night, the fair
[564]       continuing for two or three days, she decided to let the
[565]       sleeper, who was obviously no tramp, stay where he was, and
[566]       his basket with him. Extinguishing the last candle, and
[567]       lowering the flap of the tent, she left it, and drove away.
[571]       2.
[574]       The morning sun was streaming through the crevices of the
[575]       canvas when the man awoke. A warm glow pervaded the whole
[576]       atmosphere of the marquee, and a single big blue fly buzzed
[577]       musically round and round it. Besides the buzz of the fly
[578]       there was not a sound. He looked about--at the benches--at
[579]       the table supported by trestles--at his basket of tools--at
[580]       the stove where the furmity had been boiled--at the empty
[581]       basins--at some shed grains of wheat--at the corks which
[582]       dotted the grassy floor. Among the odds and ends he
[583]       discerned a little shining object, and picked it up. It was
[584]       his wife's ring.
[586]       A confused picture of the events of the previous evening
[587]       seemed to come back to him, and he thrust his hand into his
[588]       breast-pocket. A rustling revealed the sailor's bank-notes
[589]       thrust carelessly in.
[591]       This second verification of his dim memories was enough; he
[592]       knew now they were not dreams. He remained seated, looking
[593]       on the ground for some time. "I must get out of this as
[594]       soon as I can," he said deliberately at last, with the air
[595]       of one who could not catch his thoughts without pronouncing
[596]       them. "She's gone--to be sure she is--gone with that sailor
[597]       who bought her, and little Elizabeth-Jane. We walked here,
[598]       and I had the furmity, and rum in it--and sold her. Yes,
[599]       that's what's happened and here am I. Now, what am I to do--
[600]       am I sober enough to walk, I wonder?" He stood up, found
[601]       that he was in fairly good condition for progress,
[602]       unencumbered. Next he shouldered his tool basket, and found
[603]       he could carry it. Then lifting the tent door he emerged
[604]       into the open air.
[606]       Here the man looked around with gloomy curiosity. The
[607]       freshness of the September morning inspired and braced him
[608]       as he stood. He and his family had been weary when they
[609]       arrived the night before, and they had observed but little
[610]       of the place; so that he now beheld it as a new thing. It
[611]       exhibited itself as the top of an open down, bounded on one
[612]       extreme by a plantation, and approached by a winding road.
[613]       At the bottom stood the village which lent its name to the
[614]       upland and the annual fair that was held thereon. The spot
[615]       stretched downward into valleys, and onward to other
[616]       uplands, dotted with barrows, and trenched with the remains
[617]       of prehistoric forts. The whole scene lay under the rays of
[618]       a newly risen sun, which had not as yet dried a single blade
[619]       of the heavily dewed grass, whereon the shadows of the
[620]       yellow and red vans were projected far away, those thrown by
[621]       the felloe of each wheel being elongated in shape to the
[622]       orbit of a comet. All the gipsies and showmen who had
[623]       remained on the ground lay snug within their carts and tents
[624]       or wrapped in horse-cloths under them, and were silent and
[625]       still as death, with the exception of an occasional snore
[626]       that revealed their presence. But the Seven Sleepers had a
[627]       dog; and dogs of the mysterious breeds that vagrants own,
[628]       that are as much like cats as dogs and as much like foxes as
[629]       cats also lay about here. A little one started up under one
[630]       of the carts, barked as a matter of principle, and quickly
[631]       lay down again. He was the only positive spectator of the
[632]       hay-trusser's exit from the Weydon Fair-field.
[634]       This seemed to accord with his desire. He went on in silent
[635]       thought, unheeding the yellowhammers which flitted about the
[636]       hedges with straws in their bills, the crowns of the
[637]       mushrooms, and the tinkling of local sheep-bells, whose
[638]       wearer had had the good fortune not to be included in the
[639]       fair. When he reached a lane, a good mile from the scene of
[640]       the previous evening, the man pitched his basket and leant
[641]       upon a gate. A difficult problem or two occupied his mind.
[643]       "Did I tell my name to anybody last night, or didn't I tell
[644]       my name?" he said to himself; and at last concluded that he
[645]       did not. His general demeanour was enough to show how he
[646]       was surprised and nettled that his wife had taken him so
[647]       literally--as much could be seen in his face, and in the way
[648]       he nibbled a straw which he pulled from the hedge. He knew
[649]       that she must have been somewhat excited to do this;
[650]       moreover, she must have believed that there was some sort of
[651]       binding force in the transaction. On this latter point he
[652]       felt almost certain, knowing her freedom from levity of
[653]       character, and the extreme simplicity of her intellect.
[654]       There may, too, have been enough recklessness and resentment
[655]       beneath her ordinary placidity to make her stifle any
[656]       momentary doubts. On a previous occasion when he had
[657]       declared during a fuddle that he would dispose of her as he
[658]       had done, she had replied that she would not hear him say
[659]       that many times more before it happened, in the resigned
[660]       tones of a fatalist...."Yet she knows I am not in my senses
[661]       when I do that!" he exclaimed. "Well, I must walk about
[662]       till I find her....Seize her, why didn't she know better
[663]       than bring me into this disgrace!" he roared out. "She
[664]       wasn't queer if I was. 'Tis like Susan to show such idiotic
[665]       simplicity. Meek--that meekness has done me more harm than
[666]       the bitterest temper!"
[668]       When he was calmer he turned to his original conviction that
[669]       he must somehow find her and his little Elizabeth-Jane, and
[670]       put up with the shame as best he could. It was of his own
[671]       making, and he ought to bear it. But first he resolved to
[672]       register an oath, a greater oath than he had ever sworn
[673]       before: and to do it properly he required a fit place and
[674]       imagery; for there was something fetichistic in this man's
[675]       beliefs.
[677]       He shouldered his basket and moved on, casting his eyes
[678]       inquisitively round upon the landscape as he walked, and at
[679]       the distance of three or four miles perceived the roofs of a
[680]       village and the tower of a church. He instantly made
[681]       towards the latter object. The village was quite still, it
[682]       being that motionless hour of rustic daily life which fills
[683]       the interval between the departure of the field-labourers to
[684]       their work, and the rising of their wives and daughters to
[685]       prepare the breakfast for their return. Hence he reached
[686]       the church without observation, and the door being only
[687]       latched he entered. The hay-trusser deposited his basket by
[688]       the font, went up the nave till he reached the altar-rails,
[689]       and opening the gate entered the sacrarium, where he seemed
[690]       to feel a sense of the strangeness for a moment; then he
[691]       knelt upon the footpace. Dropping his head upon the clamped
[692]       book which lay on the Communion-table, he said aloud--
[694]       "I, Michael Henchard, on this morning of the sixteenth of
[695]       September, do take an oath before God here in this solemn
[696]       place that I will avoid all strong liquors for the space of
[697]       twenty-one years to come, being a year for every year that I
[698]       have lived. And this I swear upon the book before me; and
[699]       may I be strook dumb, blind, and helpless, if I break this
[700]       my oath!"
[702]       When he had said it and kissed the big book, the hay-trusser
[703]       arose, and seemed relieved at having made a start in a new
[704]       direction. While standing in the porch a moment he saw a
[705]       thick jet of wood smoke suddenly start up from the red
[706]       chimney of a cottage near, and knew that the occupant had
[707]       just lit her fire. He went round to the door, and the
[708]       housewife agreed to prepare him some breakfast for a
[709]       trifling payment, which was done. Then he started on the
[710]       search for his wife and child.
[712]       The perplexing nature of the undertaking became apparent
[713]       soon enough. Though he examined and inquired, and walked
[714]       hither and thither day after day, no such characters as
[715]       those he described had anywhere been seen since the evening
[716]       of the fair. To add to the difficulty he could gain no
[717]       sound of the sailor's name. As money was short with him he
[718]       decided, after some hesitation, to spend the sailor's money
[719]       in the prosecution of this search; but it was equally in
[720]       vain. The truth was that a certain shyness of revealing his
[721]       conduct prevented Michael Henchard from following up the
[722]       investigation with the loud hue-and-cry such a pursuit
[723]       demanded to render it effectual; and it was probably for
[724]       this reason that he obtained no clue, though everything was
[725]       done by him that did not involve an explanation of the
[726]       circumstances under which he had lost her.
[728]       Weeks counted up to months, and still he searched on,
[729]       maintaining himself by small jobs of work in the intervals.
[730]       By this time he had arrived at a seaport, and there he
[731]       derived intelligence that persons answering somewhat to his
[732]       description had emigrated a little time before. Then he
[733]       said he would search no longer, and that he would go and
[734]       settle in the district which he had had for some time in his
[735]       mind.
[737]       Next day he started, journeying south-westward, and did not
[738]       pause, except for nights' lodgings, till he reached the town
[739]       of Casterbridge, in a far distant part of Wessex.
[743]       3.
[746]       The highroad into the village of Weydon-Priors was again
[747]       carpeted with dust. The trees had put on as of yore their
[748]       aspect of dingy green, and where the Henchard family of
[749]       three had once walked along, two persons not unconnected
[750]       with the family walked now.
[752]       The scene in its broad aspect had so much of its previous
[753]       character, even to the voices and rattle from the
[754]       neighbouring village down, that it might for that matter
[755]       have been the afternoon following the previously recorded
[756]       episode. Change was only to be observed in details; but
[757]       here it was obvious that a long procession of years had
[758]       passed by. One of the two who walked the road was she who
[759]       had figured as the young wife of Henchard on the previous
[760]       occasion; now her face had lost much of its rotundity; her
[761]       skin had undergone a textural change; and though her hair
[762]       had not lost colour it was considerably thinner than
[763]       heretofore. She was dressed in the mourning clothes of a
[764]       widow. Her companion, also in black, appeared as a well-
[765]       formed young woman about eighteen, completely possessed of
[766]       that ephemeral precious essence youth, which is itself
[767]       beauty, irrespective of complexion or contour.
[769]       A glance was sufficient to inform the eye that this was
[770]       Susan Henchard's grown-up daughter. While life's middle
[771]       summer had set its hardening mark on the mother's face, her
[772]       former spring-like specialities were transferred so
[773]       dexterously by Time to the second figure, her child, that
[774]       the absence of certain facts within her mother's knowledge
[775]       from the girl's mind would have seemed for the moment, to
[776]       one reflecting on those facts, to be a curious imperfection
[777]       in Nature's powers of continuity.
[779]       They walked with joined hands, and it could be perceived
[780]       that this was the act of simple affection. The daughter
[781]       carried in her outer hand a withy basket of old-fashioned
[782]       make; the mother a blue bundle, which contrasted oddly with
[783]       her black stuff gown.
[785]       Reaching the outskirts of the village they pursued the same
[786]       track as formerly, and ascended to the fair. Here, too it
[787]       was evident that the years had told. Certain mechanical
[788]       improvements might have been noticed in the roundabouts and
[789]       high-fliers, machines for testing rustic strength and
[790]       weight, and in the erections devoted to shooting for nuts.
[791]       But the real business of the fair had considerably dwindled.
[792]       The new periodical great markets of neighbouring towns were
[793]       beginning to interfere seriously with the trade carried on
[794]       here for centuries. The pens for sheep, the tie-ropes for
[795]       horses, were about half as long as they had been. The
[796]       stalls of tailors, hosiers, coopers, linen-drapers, and
[797]       other such trades had almost disappeared, and the vehicles
[798]       were far less numerous. The mother and daughter threaded
[799]       the crowd for some little distance, and then stood still.
[801]       "Why did we hinder our time by coming in here? I thought you
[802]       wished to get onward?" said the maiden.
[804]       "Yes, my dear Elizabeth-Jane," explained the other. "But I
[805]       had a fancy for looking up here."
[807]       "Why?"
[809]       "It was here I first met with Newson--on such a day as
[810]       this."
[812]       "First met with father here? Yes, you have told me so
[813]       before. And now he's drowned and gone from us!" As she
[814]       spoke the girl drew a card from her pocket and looked at it
[815]       with a sigh. It was edged with black, and inscribed within
[816]       a design resembling a mural tablet were the words, "In
[817]       affectionate memory of Richard Newson, mariner, who was
[818]       unfortunately lost at sea, in the month of November 184--,
[819]       aged forty-one years."
[821]       "And it was here," continued her mother, with more
[822]       hesitation, "that I last saw the relation we are going to
[823]       look for--Mr. Michael Henchard."
[825]       "What is his exact kin to us, mother? I have never clearly
[826]       had it told me."
[828]       "He is, or was--for he may be dead--a connection by
[829]       marriage," said her mother deliberately.
[831]       "That's exactly what you have said a score of times before!"
[832]       replied the young woman, looking about her inattentively.
[833]       "He's not a near relation, I suppose?"
[835]       "Not by any means."
[837]       "He was a hay-trusser, wasn't he, when you last heard of
[838]       him?
[840]       "He was."
[842]       "I suppose he never knew me?" the girl innocently continued.
[844]       Mrs. Henchard paused for a moment, and answered un-easily,
[845]       "Of course not, Elizabeth-Jane. But come this way." She
[846]       moved on to another part of the field.
[848]       "It is not much use inquiring here for anybody, I should
[849]       think," the daughter observed, as she gazed round about.
[850]       "People at fairs change like the leaves of trees; and I
[851]       daresay you are the only one here to-day who was here all
[852]       those years ago."
[854]       "I am not so sure of that," said Mrs. Newson, as she now
[855]       called herself, keenly eyeing something under a green bank a
[856]       little way off. "See there."
[858]       The daughter looked in the direction signified. The object
[859]       pointed out was a tripod of sticks stuck into the earth,
[860]       from which hung a three-legged crock, kept hot by a
[861]       smouldering wood fire beneath. Over the pot stooped an old
[862]       woman haggard, wrinkled, and almost in rags. She stirred
[863]       the contents of the pot with a large spoon, and occasionally
[864]       croaked in a broken voice, "Good furmity sold here!"
[866]       It was indeed the former mistress of the furmity tent--once
[867]       thriving, cleanly, white-aproned, and chinking with money--
[868]       now tentless, dirty, owning no tables or benches, and having
[869]       scarce any customers except two small whity-brown boys, who
[870]       came up and asked for "A ha'p'orth, please--good measure,"
[871]       which she served in a couple of chipped yellow basins of
[872]       commonest clay.
[874]       "She was here at that time," resumed Mrs. Newson, making a
[875]       step as if to draw nearer.
[877]       "Don't speak to her--it isn't respectable!" urged the other.
[879]       "I will just say a word--you, Elizabeth-Jane, can stay
[880]       here."
[882]       The girl was not loth, and turned to some stalls of coloured
[883]       prints while her mother went forward. The old woman begged
[884]       for the latter's custom as soon as she saw her, and
[885]       responded to Mrs. Henchard-Newson's request for a penny-
[886]       worth with more alacrity than she had shown in selling six-
[887]       pennyworths in her younger days. When the soi-disant
[888]       widow had taken the basin of thin poor slop that stood for
[889]       the rich concoction of the former time, the hag opened a
[890]       little basket behind the fire, and looking up slily,
[891]       whispered, "Just a thought o' rum in it?--smuggled, you
[892]       know--say two penn'orth--'twill make it slip down like
[893]       cordial!"
[895]       Her customer smiled bitterly at this survival of the old
[896]       trick, and shook her head with a meaning the old woman was
[897]       far from translating. She pretended to eat a little of the
[898]       furmity with the leaden spoon offered, and as she did so
[899]       said blandly to the hag, "You've seen better days?"
[901]       "Ah, ma'am--well ye may say it!" responded the old woman,
[902]       opening the sluices of her heart forthwith. "I've stood in
[903]       this fair-ground, maid, wife, and widow, these nine-and-
[904]       thirty years, and in that time have known what it was to do
[905]       business with the richest stomachs in the land! Ma'am you'd
[906]       hardly believe that I was once the owner of a great
[907]       pavilion-tent that was the attraction of the fair. Nobody
[908]       could come, nobody could go, without having a dish of Mrs.
[909]       Goodenough's furmity. I knew the clergy's taste, the dandy
[910]       gent's taste; I knew the town's taste, the country's taste.
[911]       I even knowed the taste of the coarse shameless females.
[912]       But Lord's my life--the world's no memory; straightforward
[913]       dealings don't bring profit--'tis the sly and the underhand
[914]       that get on in these times!"
[916]       Mrs. Newson glanced round--her daughter was still bending
[917]       over the distant stalls. "Can you call to mind," she said
[918]       cautiously to the old woman, "the sale of a wife by her
[919]       husband in your tent eighteen years ago to-day?"
[921]       The hag reflected, and half shook her head. "If it had been
[922]       a big thing I should have minded it in a moment," she said.
[923]       "I can mind every serious fight o' married parties, every
[924]       murder, every manslaughter, even every pocket-picking--
[925]       leastwise large ones--that 't has been my lot to witness.
[926]       But a selling? Was it done quiet-like?"
[928]       "Well, yes. I think so."
[930]       The furmity woman half shook her head again. "And yet," she
[931]       said, "I do. At any rate, I can mind a man doing something
[932]       o' the sort--a man in a cord jacket, with a basket of tools;
[933]       but, Lord bless ye, we don't gi'e it head-room, we don't,
[934]       such as that. The only reason why I can mind the man is
[935]       that he came back here to the next year's fair, and told me
[936]       quite private-like that if a woman ever asked for him I was
[937]       to say he had gone to--where?--Casterbridge--yes--to
[938]       Casterbridge, said he. But, Lord's my life, I shouldn't ha'
[939]       thought of it again!"
[941]       Mrs. Newson would have rewarded the old woman as far as her
[942]       small means afforded had she not discreetly borne in mind
[943]       that it was by that unscrupulous person's liquor her husband
[944]       had been degraded. She briefly thanked her informant, and
[945]       rejoined Elizabeth, who greeted her with, "Mother, do let's
[946]       get on--it was hardly respectable for you to buy
[947]       refreshments there. I see none but the lowest do."
[949]       "I have learned what I wanted, however," said her mother
[950]       quietly. "The last time our relative visited this fair he
[951]       said he was living at Casterbridge. It is a long, long way
[952]       from here, and it was many years ago that he said it, but
[953]       there I think we'll go."
[955]       With this they descended out of the fair, and went onward to
[956]       the village, where they obtained a night's lodging.
[960]       4.
[963]       Henchard's wife acted for the best, but she had involved
[964]       herself in difficulties. A hundred times she had been upon
[965]       the point of telling her daughter Elizabeth-Jane the true
[966]       story of her life, the tragical crisis of which had been the
[967]       transaction at Weydon Fair, when she was not much older than
[968]       the girl now beside her. But she had refrained. An
[969]       innocent maiden had thus grown up in the belief that the
[970]       relations between the genial sailor and her mother were the
[971]       ordinary ones that they had always appeared to be. The risk
[972]       of endangering a child's strong affection by disturbing
[973]       ideas which had grown with her growth was to Mrs. Henchard
[974]       too fearful a thing to contemplate. It had seemed, indeed
[975]       folly to think of making Elizabeth-Jane wise.
[977]       But Susan Henchard's fear of losing her dearly loved
[978]       daughter's heart by a revelation had little to do with any
[979]       sense of wrong-doing on her own part. Her simplicity--the
[980]       original ground of Henchard's contempt for her--had allowed
[981]       her to live on in the conviction that Newson had acquired a
[982]       morally real and justifiable right to her by his purchase--
[983]       though the exact bearings and legal limits of that right
[984]       were vague. It may seem strange to sophisticated minds that
[985]       a sane young matron could believe in the seriousness of such
[986]       a transfer; and were there not numerous other instances of
[987]       the same belief the thing might scarcely be credited. But
[988]       she was by no means the first or last peasant woman who had
[989]       religiously adhered to her purchaser, as too many rural
[990]       records show.
[992]       The history of Susan Henchard's adventures in the interim
[993]       can be told in two or three sentences. Absolutely helpless
[994]       she had been taken off to Canada where they had lived
[995]       several years without any great worldly success, though she
[996]       worked as hard as any woman could to keep their cottage
[997]       cheerful and well-provided. When Elizabeth-Jane was about
[998]       twelve years old the three returned to England, and settled
[999]       at Falmouth, where Newson made a living for a few years as
[1000]      boatman and general handy shoreman.
[1002]      He then engaged in the Newfoundland trade, and it was during
[1003]      this period that Susan had an awakening. A friend to whom
[1004]      she confided her history ridiculed her grave acceptance of
[1005]      her position; and all was over with her peace of mind. When
[1006]      Newson came home at the end of one winter he saw that the
[1007]      delusion he had so carefully sustained had vanished for
[1008]      ever.
[1010]      There was then a time of sadness, in which she told him her
[1011]      doubts if she could live with him longer. Newson left home
[1012]      again on the Newfoundland trade when the season came round.
[1013]      The vague news of his loss at sea a little later on solved a
[1014]      problem which had become torture to her meek conscience.
[1015]      She saw him no more.
[1017]      Of Henchard they heard nothing. To the liege subjects of
[1018]      Labour, the England of those days was a continent, and a
[1019]      mile a geographical degree.
[1021]      Elizabeth-Jane developed early into womanliness. One day a
[1022]      month or so after receiving intelligence of Newson's death
[1023]      off the Bank of Newfoundland, when the girl was about
[1024]      eighteen, she was sitting on a willow chair in the cottage
[1025]      they still occupied, working twine nets for the fishermen.
[1026]      Her mother was in a back corner of the same room engaged in
[1027]      the same labour, and dropping the heavy wood needle she was
[1028]      filling she surveyed her daughter thoughtfully. The sun
[1029]      shone in at the door upon the young woman's head and hair,
[1030]      which was worn loose, so that the rays streamed into its
[1031]      depths as into a hazel copse. Her face, though somewhat wan
[1032]      and incomplete, possessed the raw materials of beauty in a
[1033]      promising degree. There was an under-handsomeness in it,
[1034]      struggling to reveal itself through the provisional curves
[1035]      of immaturity, and the casual disfigurements that resulted
[1036]      from the straitened circumstances of their lives. She was
[1037]      handsome in the bone, hardly as yet handsome in the flesh.
[1038]      She possibly might never be fully handsome, unless the
[1039]      carking accidents of her daily existence could be evaded
[1040]      before the mobile parts of her countenance had settled to
[1041]      their final mould.
[1043]      The sight of the girl made her mother sad--not vaguely but
[1044]      by logical inference. They both were still in that strait-
[1045]      waistcoat of poverty from which she had tried so many times
[1046]      to be delivered for the girl's sake. The woman had long
[1047]      perceived how zealously and constantly the young mind of her
[1048]      companion was struggling for enlargement; and yet now, in
[1049]      her eighteenth year, it still remained but little unfolded.
[1050]      The desire--sober and repressed--of Elizabeth-Jane's heart
[1051]      was indeed to see, to hear, and to understand. How could
[1052]      she become a woman of wider knowledge, higher repute--
[1053]      "better," as she termed it--this was her constant inquiry of
[1054]      her mother. She sought further into things than other girls
[1055]      in her position ever did, and her mother groaned as she felt
[1056]      she could not aid in the search.
[1058]      The sailor, drowned or no, was probably now lost to them;
[1059]      and Susan's staunch, religious adherence to him as her
[1060]      husband in principle, till her views had been disturbed by
[1061]      enlightenment, was demanded no more. She asked herself
[1062]      whether the present moment, now that she was a free woman
[1063]      again, were not as opportune a one as she would find in a
[1064]      world where everything had been so inopportune, for making a
[1065]      desperate effort to advance Elizabeth. To pocket her pride
[1066]      and search for the first husband seemed, wisely or not, the
[1067]      best initiatory step. He had possibly drunk himself into
[1068]      his tomb. But he might, on the other hand, have had too
[1069]      much sense to do so; for in her time with him he had been
[1070]      given to bouts only, and was not a habitual drunkard.
[1072]      At any rate, the propriety of returning to him, if he lived,
[1073]      was unquestionable.